ATLANTA — Give Lovie Smith this much: His players aren't quitting on him.
Say what you will about his personnel decisions and you are certainly within your rights to question his defensive schemes and that fourth-quarter play call on fourth and 1. But no one can say that his players have given up on him, the team and their commitment to winning.
A week after choking away a 24-point lead in a loss to Washington, the Bucs had every reason to give a half-hearted effort Sunday. A year after getting demolished in Atlanta, the Bucs easily could have turtled and waited for another beating Sunday.
Instead, Lovie's Bucs responded with an impressive 23-20 overtime victory against the Falcons even if they almost blew it.
Just one week after the worst loss of the Smith era in Tampa Bay, the Bucs came back with what may be the best victory of the Smith era in Tampa Bay. Playing in what has been something of a house of horrors for the Bucs, Tampa Bay went into the Georgia Dome and knocked off the 6-1 Falcons.
This doesn't mean the Bucs' problems are solved or that happy days are here again. But if you were thinking the Smith's seat is getting hot, you're wrong.
Typically, when you're looking for reasons to bounce a head coach, the first thing you look at after record is are the players still trying? In fact, sometimes it's considered before one looks at the record.
Is the coach still getting them to show up and play hard?
When the answer is no, the coach is a goner. That's what happened in Miami, both with Dolphins coach Joe Philbin and University of Miami coach Al Golden. When you've lost the players, you've lost petty much everything. The only thing left to lose is your job.
You cannot say that about Smith. The Bucs are still going all out. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston is looking more like a seasoned pro every week. Running back Doug Martin is running and running hard. The defense, shredded by Kirk Cousins last week, buckled up their chin straps and, using some well-timed turnovers, did enough to slow Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense.
All of that is an example of the Bucs playing hard, which to be fair, has always been the case under Smith.
The performances haven't always been good. But they've been hard. It doesn't always show up on the scoreboard. In fact, in a season and half, over the span of 23 games, it has shown up with only five victories. But even after tough losses, such as last week's gut-punch at Washington, the Bucs respond with loyal efforts.
The victory was a result of not only a good effort Sunday, but obviously, a good effort put in during the week's preparation that started the moment the team walked off the field last week in the nation's capital.
Smith's future with the Bucs was not decided Sunday. You can bet that there will be plenty of buzzards circling if the Bucs manage to win only four or five games all season. Some want Smith gone no matter what.
Of course, that doesn't mean the Glazers will listen to the boo birds or those disgruntled fans who want Smith out of here. Actually, they shouldn't listen if the Bucs continue to play with the spirit and swagger they played with on Sunday.
As time goes on, we will see more and more if the Bucs are getting better, if their arrow is pointing in the right direction. But this much is clear: the players respect Smith and have not given up on him.
For now, that's more than enough to keep Lovie's job safe.
Oh yeah, victories help, too.